BMW X2 M35i: Driving pleasure at a premium

BMW’s initial foray into the then-growing luxury SUV segment with the X5 20 years ago was of course a watershed moment for the automaker and one which turned out to be a resounding success after wide-scale criticism.

As history has shown, Munich’s brush with attention splitting products such as the Chris Bangle-era 5 Series (E60) and 7 Series (E65), the highly controversial X6 and more recently the all-new G11 7 Series often leads to surprising results as the novelty of hate soon turns into a must-have.

Similarly, the M division is not immune to controversy with the woeful SMG gearbox in the E46 M3, turbocharging of the F30 M3 and F10 M5, plus electrification in the coming years being only a few examples of what has drawn the ire of aficionados.

The combination of an M badge finding its way onto a SUV was however a bitter pill to swallow for many, albeit one which fizzled out quickly as both the X5 and X6 M soon became the ultimate M cars for many in pursuit of a fast SUV.

While BMW will soon expand on its M range of SUVs to include the X3 and X4 M, the lower M Performance division has also been busy with models such as the X3 and X4 M40i, the X5 M50d and the all-new X7 M50d taking over from their sedan counterparts as the ideal, if not fully fledged, M models.

Before the latter’s local market debut last month, the M Performance touches were applied to another of BMW’s controversial, so-called Sports Activity Vehicles, the X2, to create the menacing X2 M35i.

Falling into the controversial category by virtue of being front-wheel-drive thanks to the UKL2 platform used by the new 1 Series and various Mini models, the X2 fills the gap between the X1 and X3 as the most accessible, in BMW-speak, Sports Activity Coupe. Although in the case of the all-wheel drive M35i, it slots-in as the model flagship, a position it is not scared to shout about.

Aesthetically, the M35i comes as standard with the M Sport pack, but which has been turned-up to maximum with the inclusion of a Cerium Grey grille and mirror caps, wider door sills, a neatly integrated boot spoiler, dual exhaust outlets and optional 20-inch double spoke M alloy wheels.

Combined with the Black Sapphire Metallic paint finish of our tester, the lowered roofline, deep front air intake and badges on the C-pillar as a homage to the iconic 3.0 CSL, the M35i is therefore a nod to BMW’s mantra of old, namely discreet changes so as to avoid standing out too much.

Getting inside the M35i was more of a standout given the eye-catching optional Dakota leather upholstery finished in Magma Red with Grey stitching which, at R12 100, made for a welcome break from the sombre black or grey hues normally found.

With the snug M Sport seats fitted and the grippy leather covered M Sport steering wheel at your fingertips, the M35i’s cabin layout is a mix of the old and new, the former being the clear analogue instrument cluster and the latter the 10.25-inch iDrive infotainment system that is still one of the easiest systems to use, in addition to the colour head-up display.

Despite following the same design method as the X4 and X6, headroom in the M35i is acceptable, especially given the optional panoramic sunroof fitted, while legroom is commendable in light of the sport seats. As for boot space, BMW claims an everyday capacity of 470-litres or up to 1 535-litres with the rear seat folded down.

In all honesty however, the M35i is all about the drive and while the raft of features such as the optional front and rear parking sensors, reverse camera, aluminium and gloss black inserts, optional tyre pressure monitor, automatic tailgate and myriad of safety systems are indeed deal sweeteners, the true magic lies underneath the bonnet.

Powered by the same 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that will soon become available in the new M135i, the blown four-pot is also the most powerful made by BMW with outputs of 225kW/450Nm. And it is here where the M35i comes into its own.

Hooked to the sports tuned eight-speed Steptronic gearbox with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system providing all around grip, the M35i does not hold back and reacts with such immediacy that it feels more hot hatch than SUV.

It is however the noise from those twin exhausts that provides the aural magic. In addition to its metallic soundtrack with each prod of the throttle, the accompanying turbo whistle when lifting off of the accelerator is just as intoxicating and once more belies the fact that the M35i is in fact an X2.

As it comes fitted with the M Sport Adaptive Suspension, the M Sport Differential, stiffer springs and dampers as standard, the M35i has the dynamic ability to match its power outputs and installs such confidence, that you want to throw it at every single corner.

Switch the M driving mode selector from Comfort to Sport and take manual control of the gearbox via the curved gear shift paddles, though the M35i feels more alive as the throttle response is sharper and the gear changes quicker with each flick of the paddle.

Adding to the experience is the sharper steering and the upgraded M Sport brakes identified by the blue calipers. Of course, the M35i’s dynamic prowess comes at a price, namely a hard ride even in Comfort mode, however, this becomes insignificant when your sole aim is to push on as quickly as possible with a constant smile on your face.

In the confines of the unforgiving Gerotek Testing Facility with Road Test Editor Mark Jones behind the wheel, the X2’s performance figures made for interesting reading with a proven 0 to 100km/h sprint of 5.3 seconds and top speed of 263 km/h, which places it in serious hot hatch company like the Volkswagen Golf R and the front-wheel-drive Renault Megane RS Lux, not to mention the Honda Civic Type R.

The BMW X2 M35i came as somewhat of a surprise as it is, in this writer’s opinion, not the BMW to have when parked next to its siblings. With a standard asking price of R809 100 at the time of testing, it is also way too expensive, not helped by the options which saw the sticker rise to a chilling R926 172 as tested.

As dynamically gifted as it is with a stellar drivetrain, hard-edged soundtrack and superb levels of comfort and tech, it is just a bit too unruly for its own good, but then again, as the old adage stipulates, “sometimes, it is good to be bad”.

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